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Maduro on the balcony of the Miraflores Palace on the day Guaidó declared himself president. Photo: Edilzon Gamez/Getty Images

The Trump administration and the Venezuela opposition believed — insisted, in fact — that 2019 would be the year President Nicolás Maduro would fall.

The big picture: For a time it seemed Venezuela would be the international story of the year — an unfathomable economic collapse, a refugee crisis fast becoming the world’s gravest, and an international drive for regime change involving threats of military force.

How we got here:

  • May 20, 2018: Venezuela’s presidential election, won by Maduro, is widely condemned as a sham.
  • Jan 23, 2019: National Assembly President Juan Guaidó declares himself interim president and is quickly recognized by the U.S. and dozens of other countries.
  • April 30: Weeks of efforts to oust Maduro culminate in a dramatic but ultimately failed uprising, led by Guaidó and vocally supported by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, John Bolton and other top leaders.

Between the lines: Maduro has never again looked as vulnerable as he did that day, but U.S. officials continued to declare his ouster “inevitable.”

  • Elliot Abrams, President Trump’s Venezuela envoy, said in July that Maduro would “absolutely” fall by year’s end.
  • “The administration over-promised, and I think it over-believed,” says Fernando Cutz, who served as South America director on the White House National Security Council earlier in the Trump administration.
  • “They tried a high-risk, high-reward approach,” he says, pairing an embargo with bellicose rhetoric. “They really believed the actions they were taking were going to lead to regime change in Caracas, and they could have, to be honest.”
  • Now, Cutz says, “there has been an indisputable and noticeable decline in attention being paid to Venezuela,” in large part because Trump — who he says showed great personal interest in Venezuela, frequently raising it unprompted — realized “this won’t be an easy win for his foreign policy.”

The flipside: The Venezuelan opposition has begun to fray and was recently hit by a corruption scandal. Guaidó himself — once portrayed in almost messianic terms — is becoming less popular and drawing ever-smaller crowds.

  • “The people are tired of protesting and not obtaining what they ask for,” Guaidó admitted to the Washington Post.
  • His supporters are losing hope, and many have joined the flood of refugees leaving the country.

“Maduro has an incredible escape valve that he’s figured out, which is to allow everyone who doesn’t like him to flee. That is a win-win for him: Not only do you get the crowds down, but that’s less people you have to worry about not having food and medicine,” Cutz says.

  • “You keep the supporters at home, you keep the ones benefiting from the corrupt regime at home, and everyone else, you know, that’s now Colombia’s problem, and Peru’s problem, and Argentina’s problem and Chile’s problem."
  • “Particularly Colombia, which has now done more for refugees than any other country in the world recently.”

Behind the scenes: Over lunch at his stately Washington residence, Ambassador Francisco Santos told reporters Wednesday that Colombia is struggling to cope.

  • More than 5,000 Venezuelans migrate across the border every day, he said, while another 40,000 cross to get health care or go to school (Colombia grants full access to those services) and then return.
  • “We have more than 1.7 million refugees, that’s the official number and I think it’s under-reported. Bogota has 375,000 — that’s like the size of New Orleans."
  • Colombia is desperate for help from the U.S. and others, but is not considering changing its "open door" approach, he said.

Still, Santos rejected the suggestion the U.S. should reconsider a sanctions-first strategy that has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis. "We need to keep the pressure on," he said.

  • Asked by Axios about a potential leadership change in Venezuela's National Assembly — Guaidó is up for re-election next month — he said Colombia stands firmly behind Guaidó but will recognize whomever leads the assembly as the country's legitimate leader.
  • Given allegations of bribery by the Maduro regime, what if Guaidó loses under questionable circumstances? "We don't even want to think about that," he said.

The bottom line: Santos acknowledged that change in Venezuela had not come as fast as many hoped.

"We hope that the that 2020 will be the year."

Go deeper: South America's uprisings are about more than politics

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Sports

Olympics dashboard

Team USA's Simone Biles during the women's team final on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on Tuesday in Japan. Photo: Fred Lee/Getty Images

🤸🏾‍♀️: Simone Biles reacts to "love and support" after withdrawing from all-around gymnastics and team finals, citing her mental health

🏃: U.S. pole vaulter Sam Kendricks withdraws from Games after positive coronavirus test

🏊‍♂️: Caeleb Dressel wins gold in men's 100m freestyle —Bobby Finke wins gold in first men's Olympic 800m freestyle

📷: In photos: Tokyo Olympics day 6 highlights

🗓: The Olympic events to watch today

💵: Olympic athletes see more sponsorship opportunities

🏃‍: Female Olympians push back against double standard in uniforms

Go deeper: Full Axios coverage - Medal tracker

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Giant earnings growth for the world's largest companies

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Never in the history of capitalism have the world's biggest companies grown as fast as the tech giants in recent years.

Why it matters: A series of stunning earnings reports this week — with another one likely to arrive Thursday afternoon, from Amazon — has underscored the astonishing growth among a group of companies that were already some of the most profitable of all time.

Biden administration outlines goals to slow migration

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a press conference in Guatemala City on June 7. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Vice President Kamala Harris has big goals for improving conditions in Central America to help slow migration from the region toward the United States.

Driving the news: Senior administration officials unveiled five sweeping goals during a call on Wednesday: Bettering economic prospects; rooting out corruption; promoting human rights, labor rights, and a free press; preventing gang violence; and combating sexual, gender-based and domestic violence.